Unmistakably Bradford 2020

Stop By The Alhambra, Diane Holt

Since 2014, staff at Bradford Museums Photo Archive have collaborated with several universities and colleges on a project which came to be known as Unmistakably Bradford. Each year around November, groups of students visit the archive, examine and learn about images from various collections and hear how curators glean information from photographs when there is no written documentation to accompany them.

With portraits this could involve an examination of clothing or hairstyles whereas a photograph of, say, a street scene might require a close inspection of the background to find text on signs or posters. In this way they are able to discover the year when the photograph was taken, where it was taken and sometimes even the identity of people within it.

At first glance one might wonder why these three rather scruffy gentleman would be included in a set of nineteenth century lantern slides entitled Bradford Worthies. Although their names were written beneath, it took much further research to reval them as James Drake, Robert Illingworth and James Hutton, first generation industrialists in Bradford’s fledgling textile industry.

We then ask the students to imagine that a photograph they have taken of Bradford has been lost for a hundred years. The early 22nd century curator who discovers it is at a loss as to where and when it was taken. However, on closer examination they should be able to spot subtle clues which show it could be nowhere else but Bradford and no other time than 2020. They might then exclaim “It’s unmistakably Bradford, 2020!” Put another way, the students’ brief was to capture Bradford’s unique qualities right now (we should mention all this took place before the current crisis when ‘right now’ has taken on a whole new meaning).

This year the challenge was taken up by first year photography student from York St. John University. Although their time was limited, coming from outside Bradford was an advantage in that they saw the city centre with completely fresh eyes.